Anti-choice activists have found what they think is a winning wedge issue: Down syndrome and other “sympathetic” disabilities. The latest attack was in Ohio, where, in late December, GOP Governor John Kasich signed a bill that bans abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Ten states have either passed similar bills or have presented them before legislatures. The function, and I suspect the goal, of these laws is not to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome or even to stop abortions based on prenatal diagnoses. Instead, the anti-choice movement is trying to use the public’s positive feelings about cute kids with Down syndrome, like my son, to undermine reproductive rights.
In response to these threats to reproductive freedom, I’ve had to start saying something new and difficult: If individuals want to terminate an otherwise wanted pregnancy due to a prenatal diagnosis, I support their decision.
I’ve spent many years now asserting the need to re-order how we ascribe value to diverse human lives. My son may not participate in the capitalist economy, live independently, or speak (he might also do all of these things!), but his value as a human is intrinsic. I’d like others to see it that way too. Selective abortion, as I’ve written for The Nation, reveals our attitudes about disability and other forms of difference. Still it’s time to affirmatively support the right to eugenic abortion, even as we fight the need for it. The struggle for disability rights begins with the affirmation that no one gets to tell anyone else what to do with their body. That includes abortion.